WASHINGTON — With a grin on his face and a wave of his hand, President Obama pardoned the “luckiest bird on the face of the Earth,” a Minnesota-bred turkey named Spirit, at the White House on Wednesday.
The turkey, which tried to fly the coop during a send-off ceremony with Gov. Mark Dayton last week, was calm and sedate as Obama pardoned him in a White House ceremony. Spirit and his understudy, “Liberty,” are off to live at Mount Vernon while the turkeys raised with them will end up on dining room tables.
Obama, appearing with his daughters Malia and Sasha, hammed it up during a brief ceremony on the North Portico of the White House.
“Some of you may know that recently I’ve been taking a series of executive actions that don’t require congressional approval. Well, here’s another one: ‘We can’t wait’ to pardon these turkeys,” he joked, alluding to a series of executive orders he’s used to bypass a gridlocked Congress. “Literally. Otherwise they’d end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.”
Handlers placed Spirit on a festively decorated table next to Obama, who smiled as he waved his hand awkwardly over the bird and declared, “You are hereby pardoned.”
Spirit and Liberty were raised in Willmar, Minn., by a group of four Future Farmers of America students. The students — Val Braun, Brianna Hoover, Brenna Ahlquist and Preston Asche — accompanied the 19-week-old, 45-pound turkeys to the White House.
After the pardoning ceremony, the students were headed to Mount Vernon to see where the turkeys will live.
The recognition of a National Thanksgiving Turkey is a 64-year presidential tradition. The turkeys have been “pardoned” and their lives spared since 1989.
Minnesota is the largest turkey-producing state in the United States and this was the tenth time it’s been chosen to raise the national turkey, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association director Steve Olson said. The distinction travels with the chairmanship of the National Turkey Federation.
More than two months ago, the Federation’s chairman, Rick Huisinga, the vice president of the Willmar Poultry Company, approached the Willmar High School FAA with the offer of helping raise a flock of 30 turkeys, from which two were selected for the trip to Washington. The rest will be processed and their meat donated to food shelves.
Braun said raising the turkeys and “seeing how they matured and presented” was a fun experience.
In addition to the normal turkey grooming process, the students had exposed the flock to lights and loud noises in preparation for the media event at the White House.
“They also received the most important part of their media training, which involves learning how to gobble without really saying anything,” Obama joked.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry